3. – Throwback Thursday: Forte VFX1 Headset
The Forte VFX1 was the most advanced, complex and expensive consumer VR system that appeared on the market during the mid-1990s VR craze. It was released in 1995 and cost about $599. It comprised a helmet, a handheld controller, and an ISA interface board.
The helmet - which in looks and functionality comes pretty close to what was portrayed in the 1992 classic “Lawnmower Man” - featured Two Degrees of Freedom (2DOF) head tracking with internal sensors for pitch (70 degrees), roll (70 degrees), and yaw (360 degrees) in addition to stereoscopic 3D and stereo audio. It even had cool features which we see in modern VR headsets, such as a “smart visor” that could be opened to allow the user to look at the outside world, without taking off the whole thing.
The visuals, which by all accounts were very impressive for the time, were delivered by dual 0.7" 263 x 230 LCD displays capable of 256 colors. Optics comprised dual lenses with adjustable focus and interpupillary distance, with a 45-degree diagonal Field of View (FOV). The helmet also included built-in stereo speakers and a condenser microphone.
A hand-held controller called the Cyberpuck offered three buttons and internal sensors for pitch and roll. Audio, video, and tracking information was transmitted via the VIP Board, a 16-bit ISA card that received video input from the video card's 26-pin VESA feature connector.
Making this complex setup work was not for the faint-hearted though, as it required a lot of calibrating and setup with good old MS-DOS. For starters, the system’s “VIP” card needed to be installed into an ISA slot of the host PC. This worked together with the PC’s video-card connected via VESA bus to provide stereoscopic imagery on both screens of the HMD.
For those keen on indulging in some retro gaming, you can still occasionally find operational headsets for sale - one sold on Ebay recently for $240 - and there is a surprising amount of content available for it, including classic games such as Duke Nukem 3D.